That December morning in the year 2010 began oddly. The sun rose in the west. The river reversed itself and flowed upstream. The tide went out and didn't come back.
The street was unnaturally quiet. Not a car in sight. Not a bird in the sky. But there was movement down the block — something sleek and sinister slinking around a corner. A wolf? But Maine doesn't have wolves.
Although it was almost winter, the temperature had climbed past 90 degrees. Manhole covers were moving sluggishly in a counterclockwise direction. There was a hint of sulfur on the wind.
A sinister old man lurked in a doorway, clutching a battered book, his eyes as wild as his neglected beard. As I passed, he said, "Something wicked this way comes."
"Is that a prophecy?" I asked.
"No," he said, "I'm just reading Macbeth out loud."
In spite of the unseasonable heat, I felt a chill. It was as if a cold hand had reached from a tomb and gripped my heart. Then I realized I was standing under a melting icicle, and it was dripping down the front of my shirt.
Still, I couldn't shake the feeling I was trapped in one of those movies starring somebody who looks like a cut-rate Keanu Reeves, the sort of flick with an inexplicable plot, second-rate special effects, and really bad acting, often seen on the Sci Fi Channel late on Saturday nights, when the audience is too fried to complain.
"It's almost as if —" I started to say. "But ... but it's not possible. He couldn't be alive."
"Was that a prophecy?"
The old man scared the crap out of me. I'd forgotten he was there. "N-no," I said, trying to steady my voice. "I'm just reciting lines from vampire films."
I went back home and turned on the TV news.
Iran had announced a cultural exchange program with the United States. "Please send us as many fine movies filled with gratuitous sex as possible," said an ayatollah. "And make sure some of them are gay."
Somalia had just edged out North Korea as the world's top vacation destination. A Somali tourism official said, "It's no wonder. We're safe, cheap, and the food is delicious."
And in Beijing, the first popularly elected president in Chinese history had just declared a general amnesty for political prisoners and self-rule for Tibet. "Starting tomorrow," said a spokesperson for the new administration, "the government will hand out free guns and roses."
So, it was true. A warping of the fabric of reality had caused impossible events to occur in December 2010. Which could mean only one thing.
John Martin was again speaker of the Maine House.
As terror overcame me, I realized I should have seen it coming.
Martin, dubbed the Earl of Eagle Lake, began serving in the Legislature shortly after Lucifer was kicked out of heaven. Probably just a coincidence.
He spent two decades as speaker, longer than any mortal has ever survived in that position. But he was finally driven from the rostrum in 1994 by his fellow Democrats, embarrassed enough by a ballot-tampering scandal involving one of his top aides to overcome their fear of his seemingly supernatural powers. Two years later, a term-limit law approved by voters appeared to relegate his political career to the crypt.
The grave was no prison. In 1998, Martin won back his old House seat, whereupon he transformed himself into a shadowy behind-the-scenes specter. In 2000, he moved to the state Senate, rising to the assistant majority leader's post. In 2008, he again eluded the term-limit stake in the heart, shifting back to the House, where he found a developing leadership vacuum he could exploit to his benefit.
Hannah Pingree was the new speaker, but would be term-limited out in two years. Normally, that would have meant she'd be succeeded by the current majority leader. But John Piotti, the Democrats' second in command, was also termed out in 2010. That left only Majority Whip Seth Berry standing between Martin and his vengeance.
Berry, a two-term legislative lightweight, was no match for the Prince of Darkness. His bloodless corpse was found in an unused committee room. Imprinted on his forehead was an ancient curse that read, "Indefinitely postponed."
"Democracy may have come to China," said Martin, as he seized the speaker's gavel, "but I rule by other means."
That frightful vision was shattered by the ringing of the telephone. I blinked awake, safe in my bed. Had it all been a nightmare?
I looked out the window. The sun was rising in the east. The river was flowing toward the ocean. Wolves? None. Temperature? Normal.
With relief, I picked up the phone. It was a friend who works in a sporting goods store.
"Something strange happened yesterday," he said. "This crazy guy came in. He had red skin, horns, a tail, and cloven hooves."
"That's bizarre," I said.
"Oh, that's not the odd part," my friend said. "We get lobbyists in here all the time. They all look like that.
"The weird thing about this guy was he wanted to buy ice skates."
Damn me with faint praise or clear contempt by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.